As trust in federal health agencies has withered over the last few months, a group of Black physicians has been working on an antidote: creating their own expert task force to independently vet regulators’ decisions about Covid-19 drugs and vaccines as well as government recommendations for curbing the pandemic.
Organized by the National Medical Association — founded in 1895 as an answer to racist professional societies excluding Black doctors — the committee is meant to safeguard against any unscientific guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.
“It’s necessary to provide a trusted messenger of vetted information to the African American community,” Leon McDougle, a family physician and president of the NMA, told StatNews. “There is a concern that some of the recent decisions by the Food and Drug Administration have been unduly influenced by politicians.”
McDougle explained that the group’s goal is to help address the suspicion in the Black community about a vaccine, given the community’s dark history of dangerous medical testing, like the infamous Tuskegee experiment.
McDougle frames the new task force as a way to address the suspicion that has sprouted up around Covid-19 vaccines. Some worry that, in being developed at “warp speed,” the shots might not be safe or properly tested before they’re approved, and the anxiety is only heightened for those who’ve been alienated by the medical system. That’s part of the reason that certain patients of color are especially wary of taking part in the clinical trials — and those concerns may well persist even if adequate studies are done and a vaccine hits the market.
The Black community may be more receptive ‘if members of our task force give it the green light,’ says Dr. Leon McDougle.
“I think this will help to increase uptake in the African American community, if members of our task force give it the green light,” McDougle said. But he emphasized that their stamp of approval would come only if data shows that the vaccine is, in fact, effective and safe.
They’ll also be evaluating how well the clinical trial participants represent the demographic breakdown of the American population, as well as the fairness of the federal plans to distribute a vaccine — both of which are especially important given the disproportionate impact that the pandemic has had on Black, Latino, and Native American communities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that Blacks have died 2.1 times higher than whites from COVID-19, while Latinos have died at a rate of 1.1 times higher.
According to the report, the idea of the task force came from Rodney Hood, an internal medicine doctor in San Diego. Hood posited that while he has been an advocate for Black volunteers for medical trials, he also understands the distrust his patients have in the federal government. But, he explained, they trusted him as their doctor.
Francine Maxwell of the San Diego NAACP agreed. She noted that most African Americans are interested in taking a wait-and-see approach because “they don’t trust the science behind it because they feel everyone is doing it to make 45 happy,” she said, referring to President Donald Trump.
Khadijah Lang, a family physician in Los Angeles, vowed honesty with her patients.
“We will tell our patients what our scientific findings are with full disclosure and full transparency,” she said, “explaining how we came to our conclusions.”